Celia Gonzalez and Maria Botello looking through photo album

Sisters reunite at Salvation Army senior activity center

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The Laura Danieli Senior Activity Center in Phoenix has offered social fellowship and more since 1982.

By Carlos DellaMaddalena –

The memory of gifts and food The Salvation Army delivered to Celia Gonzalez’s family at Christmas during her childhood remains clear in her mind. Little did she know an even bigger gift would arrive decades later through a chance encounter in the lunchroom of the Laura Danieli Senior Activity Center in Phoenix. 

“God answered my prayers and brought me here,” Gonzalez said about reuniting with her older sister Maria Botello after 15 years of separation. “I shut down from everyone—friends, coworkers and family—after my son died in a car accident. Now I see my sister almost every day and feel like part of the family here.”

Celia Gonzalez and Maria Botello

Botello, 76, has lived at The Salvation Army’s Silvercrest senior living facility in downtown Phoenix since 2016. Gonzalez, 67, moved to an apartment nearby in April when the daughter she was living with moved and could no longer care for her. 

It wasn’t until several weeks later that the sisters learned just how close they really were.

“We probably walked by each other many days in the dining facility and didn’t even recognize each other,” Botello said.

Shortly after moving to her new apartment, Gonzalez began visiting the nearby Laura Danieli Senior Activity Center for fellowship and meals at the suggestion of a son who helped her move.

Her son learned that Botello lived at the Silvercrest through Facebook and told Gonzalez that her sister was there. At first, Gonzalez was hesitant to speak to her sister, but agreed to a phone call. Soon after speaking, the sisters arranged to meet at lunch at the activity center.  

“I was nervous about reuniting with my sister after so many years and didn’t even know if I would recognize her, but when a friend pointed Celia out in the lunchroom and we saw each other, we hugged and cried tears of joy,” said Botello.

Celia Gonzalez and Maria Botello

 Two months later, they still see each other almost every day and Gonzalez has applied to live at the Silvercrest, too.

 “We still have so much to talk about. I have so many nieces and nephews and relatives that I didn’t know,” Gonzalez said. “The best thing about reuniting has been catching up on our family history and reconnecting with family.”

According to Donna Bagley, Senior Director of the Laura Danieli Senior Activity Center, social isolation is not uncommon among seniors and can lead to depression and sharp declines in physical health.

In addition, seniors who are living alone or who have limited incomes may struggle with the ability to access services, participate in social and cultural activities, and provide themselves with nutritional meals.

The Laura Danieli Senior Activity Center opened its doors in 1982. It offers a variety of services to enhance personal growth and health as well as increase social fellowship among senior citizens 62-years of age and older. Services are free and available to anyone in need. 

In addition to offering daily congregate meals and delivering meals to homebound seniors, the center offers exercise classes, arts and craft classes, Bible studies, a library with current newspapers and magazines and coordinates the Senior Transportation Outreach program that assists seniors with transportation to medical appointments, picking up prescriptions, getting groceries, attending senior group activities and other basic transportation needs. Assistance with obtaining medical referrals is also available. 

Gonzalez’s advice to others is to reach out to loved ones who have distanced themselves because they may have depression and need help like she did.

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